Amazon and Barnes & Noble (among others) share a dirty little secret: they do not much care if book reviews posted on their websites are legitimate or not. They are in the business of selling books, pure and simple, and if the reviews cannot be considered offensive in language or content, the booksellers are happy to use them to sell more books to more suckers.
I have long been irritated by reviews written by authors of their own books (and not just self-published authors are guilty of this). Several authors have been outed for doing exactly that when they lose their tempers with legitimate reviewers who make negative comments about their books. In the process of trashing those reviews, and those reviewers, the “authors” often reveal more than they intend to reveal. Just as bad, in my opinion, are all the reviews being posted by author spouses, parents, siblings, and best friends. At least those are easy to spot on Amazon by clicking on the “See all my reviews” spot located near the reviewer’s name. Almost always, the suspect review has been written by someone so amazed by this particular book they were moved to write a book review for the very first time in their lives. And apparently, they are still so stunned they have not written one since. That must be one spectacular book.
But here is something that tops everything. There is actually a jackass out there that makes as much as $28,000 per month writing fake book reviews for fake authors who are desperate to fool the reading public about the quality of their books. Ethics be damned. These con artists don’t care about quality or legitimate respect (of course, neither do writers of the James Patterson school of writing). The New York Times features a long article about this practice and the previously mentioned jackass. Interestingly, the man’s website, one called GettingBookReviews, seems to have gone undercover for the moment. I can only imagine the number of derisive comments that must have been delivered to the site today before it crashed or was yanked by its owner. Here’s a sample of what is in the article:
In the fall of 2010, Mr. Rutherford started a Web site, GettingBookReviews.com. At first, he advertised that he would review a book for $99. But some clients wanted a chorus proclaiming their excellence. So, for $499, Mr. Rutherford would do 20 online reviews. A few people needed a whole orchestra. For $999, he would do 50.
There were immediate complaints in online forums that the service was violating the sacred arm’s-length relationship between reviewer and author. But there were also orders, a lot of them. Before he knew it, he was taking in $28,000 a month.
A polite fellow with a rakish goatee and an entrepreneurial bent, Mr. Rutherford has been on the edges of publishing for most of his career. Before working for the self-publishing house, he owned a distributor of inspirational books. Before that, he was sales manager for a religious publishing house. Nothing ever quite worked out as well as he hoped. With the reviews business, though, “it was like I hit the mother lode.”
This is a long article. It is worth your time because of what it exposes, including the pictures of the jackass-in-chief and one of his worthless minions. These people have no shame.
So Todd Jason Rutherford became the James Patterson of book reviews, hiring others to write the countless number of reviews he could not possibly do on his own. The difference is that Patterson does not try to hide the fact that he has become as much a brand name as an author – he slaps the name of his co-writers (in smaller print, of course) on the book-jacket alongside his own. Rutherford, on the other hand, is paid to write lies or exaggerations that he hopes will pass for the truth.
Why does this bother me? Because I spend countless hours trying to spread the word about good books and good writing. I do it because I fear for the future of quality publishing and hope that my efforts help some tiny bit in ensuring that good books don’t get lost in the gigantic haystack of trash being published today. I read every single word – including dedications and acknowledgements – of the novels I review. I even, at the very least, scan all the footnotes of the nonfiction books that I write about. Someone like Rutherford cheapens the whole process and makes my efforts worthless because his personal lack of ethics makes all online reviews suspect.
Amazon and Barnes & Noble should, but they will not, of course, delete the reviews of books whose authors have openly admitted to paying for reviews. I know that my Don Quixote approach to all of this will not make a bit of difference but I had to say it, and I hope others will join me in asking the online booksellers to do everything they can to stop this practice. P.T. Barnum was right. There is a sucker born every minute. But stealing from him is still not right.
So now Todd Jason Rutherford has the gall to say that he is suspicious of ALL online reviews. Thanks, Jackass.